France is coming off three days of attacks that bear striking resemblance to recent Palestinian terror attacks in Israel, including two car rammings and one knifing incident.
French authorities have denied any pattern or link behind the attacks, the most recent of which happened Monday evening when the driver of a van crashed into a Christmas market in the western French city of Nantes, injuring 10 people before stabbing himself at least nine times, witnesses said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the man “deliberately crashed into the crowd.” A witness told Agence France-Presse that he charged into those gathered around a mulled wine stand.
Some reports indicated the driver shouted “Allahu akbar” as he ran his white Peugeot van into the crowd of shoppers; other witnesses told Reuters the man did not say the phrase, meaning “God is great” in Arabic.
On Sunday, a driver shouting “Allahu akbar” ran down pedestrians in five different parts of Dijon, injuring a total of 13 people.
Witnesses said that driver indicated he was “acting for the children of Palestine,” according to AFP. A prosecutor said he suffered from a severe mental disorder for which he had been hospitalized 157 times since 2001.
Prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare said the son of North African immigrants had no religious motivations and shouted “God is great” to give himself courage to act, not out of religious belief, CBS News reported.
The spate of attacks began Saturday when a man entered a police station in Joue-les-Tours and attacked three police officers with a knife while yelling “Allahu akbar” before he was shot dead.
A French official said the knife-wielding attacker was a man from Burundi who had reportedly been drawn to radical Islam.
“We cannot speak of a terrorist act,” local prosecutor Brigitte Lamy said of Monday’s attack in Nantes, suggesting it was an “isolated case.”
French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll warned against “lumping [the attacks] together,” while President Francois Hollande urged the public not to panic, the BBC reported.
The BBC observed, “many people will be asking themselves if there is not some copycat effect being played out. Also, even if it is established the car attacks were the work of unbalanced individuals, might not Islamist propaganda have played some role in pushing them to the act?”
CBS reported that the Islamic State group has called for attacks on French soil, specifically suggesting the use of cars and knives as weapons.
The driver incidents were reminiscent of tactics used by two Palestinian assailants in October who used their vehicles to smash into bystanders at Jerusalem light rail stations, followed by a similar attack against Israelis in the West Bank in November. A vibrant social media campaign among Palestinians energized by the attacks glorified the assailants and encouraged others to do the same.
A duo of Palestinian singers recorded a song encouraging others to use their cars to “run over” Israeli babies, referring to an Oct. 22 attack in which a 3-month-old baby girl, Chaya Zissel Braun, a U.S. citizen, was killed when a car intentionally rammed into her stroller, sending her flying in the air.
“Run over, run over the 2-month-old baby girl – that’s how we get back at them,” the singers declared.